Holidays have always been inspiring for artists and Christmas is no exception. One of the most important holidays in Christianity is depicted in an array of Christmas paintings made by famous artists dating from the origin of the religion till today. The development of Christmas paintings particularly flourished in the Renaissance when the church hired an array of exceptional artists like Leonardo, Raphael or Botticelli to portray the most relevant scenes from the Bible. The images were meant to serve as teaching tools for the mostly illiterate population of the time. The religious images that tell the Christmas tale portray various parts of the Bible concerning the Holiday. From the announcement to the birth of Christ and the adoration of the magi to the nativity and the trip to Egypt, Renaissance Christmas paintings by famous artists powerfully elaborate every part of the story. In the 17th century, the realistic background and the sinister tone replaces the enlightened imagery and complex compositions to mark the begging of new era in art Baroque. The artworks made in the 19th century bring more versatility to the depictions of the Christmas tale as painters from a variety of genres such as Romanticism, Impressionism and Post-impressionsm created their own version of the beloved holiday. From the early images of the celebrated Leonardo da Vinci to the snowy winter tale of Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin‘s Tahitian Madonna this is our selection of paintings that will entice that Christmas spirit.
Scroll down to discover Christmas paintings by famous artists that best depict the spirits of the Holiday
Sandro Botticelli - Adoration of the Magi,1475
Sandro Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi is the oldest artwork on our list dating back to 1475. The artwork commissioned by the famous Italian art patrons the Medicis depicts the powerful family as worshipers of the newborn baby Jesus. We can see an array of people gathering to honor the baby Christ including the artist himself whose located in the right corner of the piece.
Featured image : Sandro Botticelli – Adoration of the Magi,1475
Leonardo Da Vinci - The Adoration of the Magi, c1482
One of the best early paintings by Leonardo da Vinci was created in a triangular composition and packed with symbolism, two characteristics recurrent in his work. Unlike other artworks from the list that depict the same scene, this particular piece was set against Roman ruins that are predicted to fall once the Christ is born. The palm tree visible in the background also has a symbolic meaning as it suggests triumph and victory over death.
Leonardo Da Vinci -The Adoration of the Magi, c1482
Giorgione - The Adoration of the Shepherds - 1505 - 1510
This intimate scene set up against the distant landscape was painted by Giorgione shortly before his premature death. The pose of the characters bowing down to the baby Jesus, portrays the humility and fascinations that shepherds felt once arriving at the scene. The vast road behind them suggests the long and tiresome journey they had to go trough before arriving at their destination.
Featured image : Giorgione – The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1505 – 1510
Raphael - The Sistine Madona, 1513 - 1514
The Sistine Madonna, also known as the Madonna di San Sisto, is the last depiction of Mary the famous artist ever made. This airy, dreamlike painting depicts the main character that’s holding the child while standing on a cloud surrounded by Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara. Two distinctive winged cherubim on the bottom of the picture are the most prominent part of the artwork and have been reproduced many times and featured in stamps, postcards, T-shirts, and wrapping paper.
Featured image : Raphael – The Sistine Madona, 1513 – 1514
Peter Bruegel the Elder - The Census at Bethlehem, 1566
Peter Bruegel the Elder took a scene from a Bible and transported it in 16th century Belgium. The artwork depicts Mary and Joseph while going off to register the baby in the midst of a cold Belgian winter. These two figures are surrounded by people bearing hardships similar to theirs although the donkey that accompanies them will likely ease their way on fulfilling the requirements of imposed bureaucracy.
Featured image : Peter Bruegel the Elder – The Census at Bethlehem, 1566
Caravaggio - Adoration of the Shepherds, 1609
Caravaggio employed an innovative composition in his depiction of the birth of Christ. By placing the figures against a vast, empty backgrounds he opposed the Renaissance technique of painting detailed decorative backgrounds.The depiction of the holy characters as any other humans, barefooted and with ordinary robes also represents a radical break with the Renaissance tradition. The lack of light that will indicate the holy nature of the event was also unusual at the time but adds to the realism of the painting created in 1609.
Featured image : Caravaggio – Adoration of the Shepherds, 1609
Arthur Hughes - The Nativity, 1858
The Nativity painting by Arthur Hughes, powerfully portrays the difference between religious paintings made in the 16th and those made in the 19th century. In the artwork by the British artist, Madonna is far from the unearthly figure portrayed in the middle ages. Instead, she is a sweet and innocent figure humbly dressing her son. Not even the angels are as excited and mesmerized as you may assume. The vague indifference of the characters makes the dirty straw on the bottom of the painting the most striking part of the piece.
Featured image : Arthur Hughes – The Nativity, 1858
Claude Monet - Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875
Snow at Argenteuil landscape painting was created close to the artist’s house in the commune of Argenteuil. The artwork depicts boulevard Saint-Denis and the street where Claude Monet lived with his family. The paint at the road is deliberately applied thicker than on the other parts of the paintings to suggest the feel of stepping into a deep snow. The artist painted 16 paintings of the snow covered road that winter and this was the largest one of them all.
Featured image : Claude Monet – Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875
James Tissot - Journey of the Magi, 1894
James Tissot is a French painter famous for depicting fashionably dressed women in his native country but he did created several religion-themed artworks as well. In this realistic artwork James Tissot focuses not so mush on the religious aspect but more on the scenery surrounding Christ’s birth. The artwork that depicts three magi in search for Jesus is dominated by the glorious mountains rising above the narrow path.
Featured image : James Tissot – Journey of the Magi, 1894
Paul Gauguin - Baby (Nativity Of Tahitian Christ), 1896
Paul Gauguin painted the image of Madona while he was taking his prolific stay at the Pacific Island. The artwork is done in his recognizable post-Impressionist style with striking colors and respect for the local culture. Baby (Nativity Of Tahitian Christ) is one of several artworks with religious thematic that the famous French painter created alongside the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden and the Fall of Man. The image of a Tahitian Madonna may look unusual to the viewers accustomed the western depictions of the virgin.